You sleep on it at night, you dry yourself with it after a shower, and you’re probably even wearing it right now.
Despite being so common and so useful (it represents nearly half the fibre used in the textile industry), cotton has a dark side. The story of the way cotton is grown, harvested and produced has some nasty truths that impact our planet and its people.
Cotton is sometimes referred to as White Gold because of how lucrative it is in developing nations, like Uzbekistan. But what are the actual facts behind these claims and how can we make sure the cotton we wear and use has cared for the earth, waterways and the people who helped make our garments?
Cotton is the thirstiest crop in the world. It requires a shocking 2,700 litres of water to produce a single t-shirt! To put that outrageous figure into perspective, that’s enough water for one person to drink for 900 days.
The production process for conventional cotton uses a huge 25% of the world’s insecticides; more than any other crop in the world. Pesticides can infect local waterways, destroying the environment and harming animals. Pest continually build a resistance to the chemicals used, so new pesticides are continuously developed, resulting in greater pesticide use and spiralling costs for farmers.
Pesticide poisoning isn’t limited to the environment. Food and water supplies can be easily contaminated from runoff, and it’s the local communities, sometimes already facing hardship, that suffer through disease, illness and even birth defects.
In many developing countries, cotton is hand-picked. In countries like Uzbekistan and India, it is usually children who do this backbreaking work, taking them away from pursuing a life changing education while running the risk of injury and illness.
The Alternative – Organic Cotton
But it’s not all bad news! Organic cotton is a wonderful, sustainable solution, which is grown without the use of pesticides, from seeds which have not been genetically modified.
Organic farming practices avoid using harmful chemicals while aiming for environmental sustainability and the use of fewer resources. Chemical-free agricultural land even stays fertile much longer than land which is hampered by the constant use of pesticides, so organic cotton farmers generally have a longer cotton commodity lifespan than otherwise.
Shore Relaxed Pant made from 100% certified fair trade organic cotton by Kowtow
The benefits are clear; using less pesticides means that the health of workers improves dramatically, communities can live in relative health with access to clean water and food supplies, and the land has a longer lifespan because it is not being damaged by chemicals.
By seeking out organic cotton alternatives to everyday products, you can easily act ethically and sustainably by encouraging the production of cotton grown without pesticides and reduce harm for the planet and people!
Want More Info?
For more information on organic products, visit the website of Australian Certified Organic. They’re a not-for-profit organisation based in Brisbane that works with local producers as well as international organisations to certify textiles and other products for Australians, under the Global Organic Textile Standard.
Where to Buy Organic Cotton
Bhumi creates timeless casual wear ranges from scarves to hoodies and leggings for men, women and children.
Kowtow is a New Zealand brand that uses only fair trade organic cotton in their stunning and minimalist pieces.
Vege Threads sell men and women’s basics and activewear.
Nomads Clothing bring you a range of vintage and bohemian inspired pieces for free-spirited women.
Sorella Organics specialise in high-quality basics ranging from tops and pants to wraps, nighties and even maternity wear.
Download the Good On You app to discover more brands using organic cotton.
Feature Image: Kimberly Vardeman
Editor’s note: This article was updated on 15 March 2017.